Virginia Tech®home

Oral Health Program

Oral Health Curriculum 2018

The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine is one of the few medical schools that incorporates oral health into its instruction. Thanks in large part to a $1 million endowment made possible by a gift from the Delta Dental of Virginia Foundation, a comprehensive oral health curriculum is a major component of the education received by students at the VTC School of Medicine.

[Bud Conklin]: Our goal in developing an oral health curriculum was to put the mouth back into medicine.

[Tarin Schmidt-Dalton]: We as physicians need to be competent in providing that care.

[Richard Vari]: The importance of oral health in a medical student education can't be overemphasized.

[Adam Tate, class of 2018]: It's very intensive but I think it's extremely important

[Music with visuals of the oral health program]

[Cynda Johnson, founding dean, VTCSOM]: It has been clear from the beginning that we really do have the market on a unique program. It's very interesting the way George Levicki and I first decided we should think about an oral health curriculum.

[George Levicki, former president & CEO, Delta Dental]: We had spoken about doing something for Virginia Tech shortly after the massacre and as we talked about it, we really wanted to something that was health related, and oral health related as well.

[Cynda Johnson]: They thought that the fact that a new medical school was coming on might be the ticket.

[George Levecki]: I'd not met the Dean previously but I did know Buddy Conklin, Dr. Conklin, and so I called Buddy up and said you know tell me what you're thinking about doing.

[Dr. Charles "Bud" Conklin, chief, dentistry, Carilion Clinic]: I had Dr. Johnson in the dental chair and I said to her "hey you ought to think about putting an oral health curriculum into the medical school" and she said "you know I thought about that."

[George Levecki]: So the idea kind of surfaced in one of our board meetings that perhaps we should consider providing of education to physicians about oral health. 

[Cynda Johnson]: We just said well we're just gonna we're just gonna do something and we shook hands and so we did.

[Bud Conklin]: And so out of a group of visionaries that was sort of our starting point.

[Cynda Johnson]: Then we began looking at what would be funded and that resulted in our first two gifts of an endowment for electiveship, and then money to start the actual curriculum.

[Richard Vari, senior dean for academic affairs]: Everybody came together and decided it was worth trying to put into our program and our program is so flexible that we were able to not only just put it in there but we were able to carve out an entire week that we could then really focus down on the breadth and depth of oral health as much as we can for our medical students.

[in video: Bud Conklin explaining "dry mouth leads to tooth decay, we kind of looked at that this week"]

[Tarin Schmidt-Dalton, associate dean for clinical skills year 1 and 2]: Two things were important for us. One, we wanted to make sure that the students learned the the entire life span and the changes including the pediatric oral health exam; and Two we wanted to make sure that the traditional kind of head and neck exam included a complete exam of the mouth.

[Bud Conklin]: This is my 37th year at the hospital and up until that time you know I was amazed at how little physicians understood about the mouth or even examine the mouth.

[Adam Tate, class of 2018]: The joke that Dr. Conklin always makes is that you know most doctors when they look at them out they're looking straight to the back of the mouth. Dr. Conklin kind of reiterated over and over again that if you aren't looking at it, maybe no one else is either.

[Richard Vari]: We want the students to understand the foundational anatomy and structure of the oral cavity be able to recognize the importance that this is part of the physical exam that needs to be included.

[George Levecki]: Over the years we've seen any number of studies starting to propose a connection between oral health and certain medical diseases.

[in video: the fact that they were able to keep that area was very beneficial for me]

[Tarin Schmidt-Dalton]: When they're younger, many of the kids, these young adults will see a dentist. As they age it's less likely that they will do so and their encounters with a medical professional is typically with their physician.

[Richard Vari]: We have students we will then become positions that are keeping this aspect of medicine at the forefront of their practice and including it. I think patients will be better for that.

[Adam Tate]: For me, since I am interested in rural family health, and at least the population that I grew up around there's a lot of heavy tobacco used not just cigarette smoking but also dip, chews or oral or oral tobacco use. So that has a tendency to cause mouth cancers and so it's something that you need to be looking out for as their provider.

[George  Levecki]: With the American Dental Association even wrote this up in their eighty eight newsletter and commented on how pleased they were see this type of education taking place

[Richard Vari]: We presented some of this curriculum and we had some dentists and dental educators in the audience and they were just amazed and they were saying things like do all do more for oral health than some medical schools that actually have dental school attached to them

[Bud Conklin]: I've gotten calls as far away as Australia. They're talking about what's going on at the School of Medicine here what we've done with oral health, putting it back in the medical education. The word is spreading we're proud of what we've done.

[Cynda Johnson]: They were so excited about what we had to say that they really told us they just dreamed of having partner medical schools that could do the same.

[George Levecki]: Medical and dental are really all the same isn't they're all part of each other all part of overall human health

[Adam Tate]: The program is really useful that we get that exposure that we start thinking about that early on in our medical careers that we need to be looking at this.

[Bud Conklin]: There are gonna be patients out there who are going to be diagnosed early cured of their disease because the students went through this curriculum they're aware of playing clinically that means more time with grandchildren that's what I see as the end zone and the most important part of the curriculum


Another, more recent gift from Delta Dental awarded the school $100,000 to start a new pilot program to promote integrated oral health care exams and fluoride varnishing for young children in local doctors’ offices.

Oral health has been a focal point of the medical school since it's inception with the help of an earlier gift from Delta Dental that, among other programs, established an annual public lectureship to highlight integral links between oral health and overall health.

The endowment has allowed the medical school to expand this program by providing for clinical training as well as lectures on general oral health, oral cancer, common pathologies, and oral manifestations of systemic disease.

Thanks to the expansion and continued improvement of the oral health curriculum, students will be able to identify and treat oral diseases before they can contribute to increased risks of conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, oral cancer, and pregnancy complications.